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OpEd: Canada unprepared for dementia epidemic

The rate of dementia is expected to peak as baby boomers age but we’re not ready to deal with all the implications.
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Nevil Hunt, September 4, 2013 9:31:11 AM

Some problems are so scary, it’s easier not to think about them. But we ignore challenges and risks at our peril.

Some might see this as a segue into a discussion about global warming, but the impending effects of a dementia epidemic will be as personal and communal as climate change.

As the baby boomers age, we are facing a crisis. A crisis in health care, a crisis in productivity and a crisis for families.

A recent news report indicates our federal government has yet to take the coming wave of dementia seriously.

It’s fair to say that the majority of politicians are focused on the next election, not long-term issues that will peak in a decade or two. But we need to start planning now.

Dementia is a painful prospect so we ignore it and hope for the best. And the issue does feel hopeless; there’s no known cause and no cure.

The numbers are staggering. There was a new case of dementia diagnosed every five minutes in Canada in 2008. In another 25 years, it’s expected there will be a new dementia patient every two minutes.

Government and public complacency about the coming increase in dementia cases is understandable because we have been “saved” before by science. We now have some control over HIV/AIDS, which was once untreatable. A cancer diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean a death sentence thanks to advances in treatment. We may expect a cure for dementia to be developed before we need it but we can’t count on it.

The Alzheimer Society has been trying to get the federal government’s attention. The provinces – which have health care responsibilities – are starting to take note, but a real strategy will take real financial investments in advice, advocacy and training.

We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can look to Denmark, where people diagnosed with dementia aren’t shunted off to long-term care centres. They are encouraged to live as well as they can and enjoy themselves.

The Alzheimer Society needs to turn up the pressure on our governments. The society could start an ad campaign that scares the heck out of anyone over 50 and call for volunteer trainees to help future patients. There are plenty of people hitting retirement age who have seen others suffer – or will soon – and they would make wonderful community volunteers, able to assist those with dementia right in their own communities.

The baby boomers have clout today. They’re plentiful, financially secure for the most part and they vote. The sooner that age group presses for action, the sooner the government will respond.

Regardless of votes, for any politician, the personal price so many of us will pay if diagnosed with dementia should be reason enough to act.

Image credit: Thinkstock

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